A week after heavy storms brought flash floods and tornadoes to much of the state, killing 27 people, Gov. Phil Murphy told residents Wednesday afternoon to prepare for another round of storms and to consider buying flood insurance.
“I cannot believe we are talking about this, but here goes. We are at risk of severe storms this evening ... that will bring wind gusts and downpours into areas that need neither,” Murphy said during a press briefing Wednesday.
He also said the state needs more options to deal with storms and flooding, and said buyouts of houses in particularly flood-prone areas may have to accelerate.
On Tuesday, Murphy toured areas of the state damaged by the remnants of Hurricane Ida with President Joe Biden. The storm hit New Jersey last Wednesday evening into Thursday morning.
There was a bright spot in last week’s storm experience, Murphy said. Investments of billions of dollars to protect electrical substations paid off in the remnants of Ida.
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“In Hurricane Irene we had 2 million outages,” Murphy said, many of which lasted weeks. “We had 92,000 (in Ida).”
The governor said warnings of new storms are reminiscent of last Wednesday.
“We were sitting here a week ago talking about what was going to happen,” Murphy said of storms that also left four people missing. “We have very saturated grounds in the state right now. Vegetation, trees and foundations — everything is more likely to be easily moved.”
No one died in tornadoes last week, he said, because they took warnings seriously and went into their basements.
A tornado ripped through Mullica Hill in Gloucester County last week, bringing winds of up to 150 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
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But the majority of deaths involved people caught in flood waters either in buildings or cars.
“If your phone goes off with a flash flood ... warning, please take it seriously. Don’t go out in a storm,” Murphy said.
The governor recommended even people who don’t live in areas considered flood zones consider buying flood insurance, since flooding happened last week in areas that had never flooded before.
Ida largely spared the Jersey Shore, instead hitting hardest in the western and northern parts of the state.
“Ida proved devastating floods can happen anywhere and anytime,” Murphy said.
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Homeowners across the state told him they didn’t carry flood insurance either because their neighborhood hadn’t flooded before, wasn’t in a flood zone or they didn’t realize homeowner’s policies don’t cover flood damage, Murphy said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency assists people in meeting basic needs and beginning to rebuild, he said, but does not provide the resources needed to fully rebuild.
“Flood insurance is there to bring you back to where you were pre-flood,” Murphy said.
Col. Pat Callahan of the State Police said he expects more counties to be added by FEMA to the federal disaster declaration beyond the six already included. The other counties in which data is still being collected are Hudson, Essex, Mercer, Union, Burlington, Monmouth, Morris and Warren.
Counties in which federal disaster declarations have already been made are Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic and Somerset. The declaration makes federal funding available to cover temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs for residents and business owners.
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Callahan said residents should report cases of price gouging after storms or consumer fraud to njconsumeraffairs.gov.
Officials also gave an update on the state’s COVID-19 numbers during the news conference. State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli reported 1,186 people are now hospitalized with COVID-19, with 270 in intensive care and 128 ICU patients on ventilators.
The state reported 14 new COVID-related deaths, bringing the total to 24,258 deaths statewide since the pandemic began.
The delta variant continues to be dominant, with 98% of variants sequenced in the last several weeks being of the delta type.
As of Sept. 4, the positivity rate in New Jersey was 7.93%, with the south having the highest percentage at 9.59%, the north 6.39% and the central part of the state at 9.52%.
MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. — A tornado that ripped through Mullica Hill, New Jersey, on Wednesday evening is believed to have had an EF-3 rating, with winds of up to 150 miles per hour (240 kph), according to the National Weather Service.
The state is still waiting for final recommendations from the federal government on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, including whether they should be given six or eight months after initial vaccination, the governor said.
Due to increased concerns around storms, COVID-19 and school re-openings, Murphy said he will increase his COVID-19 press briefings to two per week going forward. They will be held at 1 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.
REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post